Women's Health - Setting the Record Straight Once More

Article excerpt

In her March 11 letter, "Setting the record straight on women's health," Phyllis Greenberger accuses me of dispensing "inaccuracies and irrelevancies" about women's health at the Independent Women's Forum Conference on Women and junk science. On the contrary, I pointed to the facts about the extent of women's inclusion in clinical research, facts that flatly disprove the all-too-common charge that women are shortchanged by medical inquiry.

For starters, women have been included in government-funded clinical research for years. The Office of Research on Women's Health at the National Institutes of Health documents that 52 percent of the roughly more than 1 million subjects enrolled in clinical trials in 1994 were women. Contrary to Miss Greenberger's suggestion that the 1993 NIH Revitalization Act - an unprecedented legislative intrusion into the conduct of science requiring that women and minorities be included in clinical trials - had something to do with this, the great majority of these subjects were enrolled before the legislation's implementation.

In fact, there were data about women's inclusion in NIH-funded trials well before NIH's Office of Women's Health began tracking this officially. For example, NIH reported that in 1979, of 293 clinical trials, 268 involved both sexes. Of the remainder, 13 were limited to women, 12 to men.

Charges that women were neglected by researchers are not merely overblown, but falsely attributed to a callous disregard for women promoted by a male-dominated research establishment. Not so. Science proceeds on the basis of what it knows, and early research on heart disease showed there was little evidence that women were at risk.

Consider the Framingham study that Miss Greenberger mentions. Begun in 1948, it was the first major longitudinal study of heart disease, and 55 percent of the subjects were women. Researchers tracked their health for years and initially concluded that women did not get heart disease. Why? Because women get heart disease and heart attacks about 10 to 20 years later than men. This led to the initial perception that women were not at risk for heart disease, and so some spinoff studies did not include them. …